Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Concrete Formalist Readings: a Chat, concluding with an Analogy

I have finished the first series of Concrete Formalist Readings as outlined in my last post. Whether they are a first in Western Civ. is not a claim I am qualified to make or even interested in considering, except with a laugh. I am quite sure they are not the last, at least from my perspective.
First Block Poem Reading Series

These readings were conceived as a means of maintaining my self-respect in an utter dearth of interest in traditional poetry readings, while perhaps providing entertainment to myself and others, even food for thought. In other words, I was bored out of my mind and desperate for relief. While I struck upon and settled into the self-publishing mode in 2008, I had yet to arrive at a means of presenting my work publicly, or engaging the public aspect of projecting my work, that made sense, felt right, etc. Or indeed was anything I could enjoy.
The idea of reading over a four-week period, at four sites in the city, which would stake out a rectangular pattern occurred to me toward the end of a run with my son, Jackson. We had started out from our house and as we got going I explained my dilemma to him (wanting to figure out a way to read in public that made sense) and, somehow, as he sped off toward home at the end of our run while I slowed to a walk, the idea struck, took root, and fleshed out.

Representative block poem
But enough background. The readings were a matter of first announcing the time and place on Facebook. I planned the readings, loosely, taking a book or two of mine. I took extra copies in the event someone showed up. I went to the spot, and read my poems (to myself) for 10, 15 minutes, and went home. I then commented on the reading.

I was surprised that these felt like real readings. I mean, I was expectant, even nervous. I was happy to conduct them. I was relieved at the conclusion. I found myself entering into the work, abiding in it for a time. Afterwards, I would wander around the area a bit, feeling good and alive. The experience was, in short, traditional, even if the mode was not.

I am sure I will do this again, alternating months, at least for some time. You can see from the map that I failed on the initial corner angle (NW) thereby mangling the bounds of a true rectangle. I have a protractor now, so that should not be a problem in the future. I found the four-readings aspect to be interesting in terms of how I felt about each locale. The first point (NE - our house) was a gut call on how to kick off the block. The second (NW point) was fun choice, as I could line out in any direction, knowing that the choice would also influence the third site, and the fourth most of all. But, I did not plan the entire block at once. That would have been cheating.

The third reading (SW) was difficult, as I was bound to a point along a particular line. In this case, much of that line crossed the Willamette river, and I did not want to go to the West Side. Not yet.

The fourth site, which I thought would feel anti-climactic (or be unfeasible), being non-negotiable, was perhaps the most satisfying. It put me in a part of town I had not been too, though it wasn't far away at all from our house. And then I thought - how funny, because I love visiting parts of town I have never been to. On a recent vacation day, I took a spontaneous tour, jumping from city bus to city bus, line to line, here to wherever, along with Jackson. It was something I had wanted to do for a long time. I don't know why, really.

But why - and I should answer this question - does this form of a reading series work for me? That is an ongoing think, and I may never get much farther (and may not want to) than to acknowledge certain facets and factors. As I've said, each reading felt and followed through as genuine. I made people aware of the readings. I have felt productive and happier with myself as a writer. I certainly feel that this form of readings, which mimics or echos the form of my writing, is just the solution I have longed for. I cannot be accused of grandstanding. I cannot be faulted for not trying. This form of reading is as close a cousin of my form of writing, and publishing, as I can imagine.

Finally, having this form for readings has allowed me to let go of doubts and consternation. I am perfectly at ease with traditional poetry readings, though I will continue to avoid them, you bet. But, as odd as what I do is, I have no doubts that what other people do is fine as well. I am grateful for latitude and options. And for friends who support me in what I do. There are several who seem to get it, commenting on the sites I have chosen, offering observations, etc.

So, this form of reading works for me. Granted. Could it work for others? Why not? If I had to explain it
further, I would compare it to plein-air painting. The artist (writer) takes her canvas & brushes (poems) out of the studio to a selected spot and paints (reads) there, the better to capture the light and perspective. I have never viewed reading as a passive endeavor. No poem is anything unless or until it is read, and it's success is bound to the degree to which the reader is sought to engage.  Lack of audience is no deterrent. One is obligated to make one's work available, and if there is no one there to hear it, all the better, that the work should exist, present and available, to the surrounding air.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Concrete Formalist Poetry: the Readings

I have for some time found conventional poetry readings (and the writing itself) to be somehow at odds with whatever it is I have made myself into, by a decidedly non-linear series of fits, starts, gaps, self-recriminations, glowing insights, etc. I have gone, I have listened, uncomfortable. With the set-up, the milieu. The niceties, real or not. The mike. The beer. The cheese.

The givens. The accepted this and that. The soft realities.

Anyway, I have no use for complaint when the creature itself is beautifully suited to its environs. Many are the brilliant souls who attend and support these events. Great are the experiences to be had. I too, in my youth (my youth! lol!) got much from that.

But now (via the afore-mentioned twists and turns) am something else, if not someone. What (feet to the fire) do I do about this?

So, it has been years. I gave a reading a couple years ago, well set up, that went all right, but the internal conflict was strong. It has gotten stronger.

I attended a great reading several months ago, including Kasey Mohammed and Rodney Koenicke, and this kid from NYC who was great. The reading had kismet. Close to our house, heard last minute. Maybe the best it could be.

I go to readings by my friend, John Beer, which are always wonderful for me. I go to readings by my wife, Endi, where my heart is too full to know what is going on around me.

For the past couple, it has sufficed, for me, to be a reader at church. But, that's kind of a cop-out. I mean, it's not presenting my work the way a poet needs to. Because a poet needs to engage, somehow, at least to engage the property, the quality, the institution of public interface. To invite, to perform. To read at church, before the altar of God, you must remove yourself from the conversation except to say, I will.

Then, I had this idea, which occurred after mentioning this dilemma to my son, Jackson. I explained the outline to Jackson and Endi while reclining on the cool wood floor of our kitchen after a run. Jackson remarked it was a concrete formalist reading idea, and so it is.

I offer a reading series, as a model for reading.

  1. I will pick a spot in Portland, Oregon to read my poems for 15 minutes, give or take, and announce the place and time (likely, on Sunday) on Facebook (on Friday). I will read my poems to myself, if no one else is there. If someone shows up, I will read aloud if they wish. Otherwise, we can read quietly, together. I will pick this spot on whim or impulse, but it will be only the first of a four-part reading series, to occur once a week over four weeks.
  2. The second reading will be announced in the same manner as the first. This will establish one border.
  3. The third reading, announced as the other, will establish the third geographical corner.
  4. With the fourth reading (where people may or may not have appeared. To be frank, it hardly matters to me if they do.) the block will have been established.

The reading series, occurring in four-reading sets, will establish a rectangle pattern when the sites are viewed on a map. In this way, the readings will echo the block form of my writing. I will enact read as I have written, in the form I commit to the page. I will, in a concrete and formal manner, enact, in my reading, as I write.

Should this plan work out, if I find I can carry it out, and believe it is productive, I will have more to say. For now, all I can reasonably say is that the first reading will be tomorrow, around noon, in Mt. Tabor Park, at a clearing to the East of the upper reservoir.